Water is fundamental to community sustainability and growth and the way water is managed in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) will be critical in the face of changing weather patterns. The SSRB Adaption to Climate Variability Project will harness the energy and creativity of southern Albertans to explore practical options for adapting to climate variability and change.
In 2010, Alberta WaterSMART stated that, “water is a significant limiting factor to population growth and economic development in the SSRB.”1 Much work has already been done, specifically the Bow River Project, on improving surface water management and increasing access to water supplies, all while protecting and enhancing environmental flows throughout the watershed. However, opportunities still exist to reduce the role of water as a barrier to population growth and economic development.
The project will build on and integrate existing data, tools, capacity and knowledge of water users and decision makers to improve understanding and explore how to manage for the range of potential impacts of climate variability throughout the SSRB’s river systems. This understanding will support collaborative testing and development of practical and implementable adaptive responses to climate variability, from the local community scale to the provincial scale. Using existing analytical and decision-support tools, the project will engage many people and groups to build:
- a common understanding of feasible and practical mechanisms for adapting to climate variability and change, and
- increased capacity for an informed, collaborative and adaptive approach to water resource management throughout the SSRB. This will enable organizations, communities and individuals to assess their risks in near real-time and determine their most suitable responses to climate variability within the physical realities of SSRB river flows, requirements and infrastructure.
In January 2012, the Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation awarded funding for the SSRB Adaptation to Climate Variability Project. The funds were provided to Alberta WaterSMART and Alberta Innovates-Energy Environment Solutions to support the first stage of this adaptation work. Engineers, researchers and facilitators at Alberta WaterSMART will guide the project collaborating with necessary groups to ensure success. Communication Advisors will publish data and findings through various communication vehicles to ensure the findings are shared to better enhance water management practices in Alberta.
The first stage of the project is divided into four phases:
- Foundational Blocks: Initial Assessment
The first phase of the work is an initial assessment of the data, tools, capabilities, processes and frameworks that already exist and could form elements of the foundational blocks to support integrated water management by water users, decision makers and other interested parties over the long term. This work will identify the core resources for the project, identify critical gaps to be addressed, and ensure existing knowledge, tools, and experiences are leveraged, while avoiding duplication of work already completed or underway.
- Bow River Basin: Adaptation and Live Test Year
The second phase will reengage Bow River Project participants and engage new participants with an interest in the Bow River Basin to: advance climate adaptation decision making related to water resources, explore climate variability scenarios, identify impacts and risks to the river system and its users, and identify adaptation options. Participants will also document the net benefits of re-managing flows in the Bow River and identify infrastructure options that could assist with adaptation strategies. All of this work will provide support for a ‘virtual’ river test year, or perhaps an actual test year of modified flow, to better match the three Water for Life goals.
- Oldman River Basin and South Saskatchewan River Modelling
In the third phase, participants will model the Oldman River Basin (Oldman River and Southern Tributaries, including the Belly, St. Mary and Waterton Rivers), and the South Saskatchewan River to the Alberta border. Users, decision makers and others in the Oldman and South Saskatchewan River (OSSK) Basins will form a river consortium and set principles to guide and inform the model-based work, incorporating an environmental and climate adaptation focus. A comprehensive river system model for the OSSK Basins will be developed. Inputs to the SSRB from the Milk River will be part of this data, but the Milk will not be explicitly modelled. Throughout the model building, participants will discuss work that has been or is being done, and possible next steps in building the capability and capacity for adaptation around river management in the SSRB.
- Foundational Blocks: Development
The final phase will see development of new adaptation foundational blocks. This work will be based on the gaps identified in the initial assessment, which may include acquiring, updating, or purchasing useful data and tools for future work to develop adaptation options for integrated river management.
This project will take approximately two years to complete. It should significantly advance climate adaptation resilience in the SSRB, leave a legacy of data, information and tools, and inform similar future work throughout the rest of the SSRB. We hope, with subsequent support, to then expand the work to encourage climate adaptation throughout the entire SSRB.